Fifty and Counting

Fifty and Counting

There are sculptures at the entrances of cathedrals from the 13th century in central and northern France, architectural wonders made of four circular lobes. Eugène Viollet-le-Duc gave those ornaments, a beautiful name, quatre-feuilles  or four leaves. represent the charming order of the time (…), with the zodiac signs above it and the work of the month below.” Which is to say that in the collective imagination, consciously or not, for several centuries, this quadrilobed shape, so characteristic of the ogival style and of architecture that reflects the different moments of life, speaks to us of work in the fields and the orchard. 

What Ruskin did not make a note of is that these lobes, typical representations of French gothic art, made their first appearance three centuries before these cathedrals on the Iberian Peninsula, at the time of the caliphate of Cordoba. Islamic Spain was a marvel for all travellers with its Umayyad architecture rich in polylobed arches. 

One of the most magnificent marvels of Islamic architecture is located in Grenada: Alhambra. Victor Hugo turned to poetry to express the sumptuous exuberance of this palatial beauty by describing it as a fortress: where we hear the night of magical syllables/where the moon, having travelled through thousands of Arab arches/scatters white clovers over walls. The clover, there we have it. Between the four lobed arches and the four-leaf clover there is an air of the familiar, of the familial, an essence of community. 

A symbol of good luck

In 1968, a revolution had taken over Paris, the emancipation movement. A new generation of jewellers were inspired by this revolt, often in a very literal manner. Van Cleef & Arpels participated, in its own way, in this revolution by creating a collection of pieces that were easy to wear and a lot more accessible than high jewellery. The idea was that these would be jewels for women, bought by women. 

The stylistic vocabulary of the creations of Van Cleef & Arpels was structured around four very clear themes: luck, couture, fairy-tale and nature. One could also add a fifth, travel. The Alhambra chain, when it was first presented in 1968, was clearly part of this last theme. The chain was made of yellow gold with the four-leaf clover motif edged with delicate gold beading placed at regular intervals across the length of the chain. It was an overnight success, just like the Philippine rings that were released the same year. But only Alhambra seems to have had an incomparable destiny because its global success. And for 50 years now, it has never waned. 

We all agree on the reasons for its success: the fluidity and elegance of its movement, its positive association of materials, the talisman-esque and divinatory nature of its design — that gradually became a symbol of good luck towards the end of 1970 — its inventive adaptations and emblematic craftsmanship. 

The power of invocation

All these aspects of the Alhambra are well known and unanimously agreed upon. There is, however, another slightly more unpalpable reason that explains its success: its power of invocation. Alhambra, apart from being a good luck charm, brings proof to those who believe in a harmony that exists as we travel through space, history and time. 

Through the bridges it builds between unforgettable memories, through the invisible lines that are traced between arts and cultures. Alhambra satisfies the senses, brings equilibrium between them and transmits between them. This story of a tender and sensitive revolution, which did not find its place in the corridors of marketing, could bring a smile to the faces of the sceptics. And to them the answer is: Those who do not believe in magic will never find it. 


Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.